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S.B.F.’s Diesel Therapy

Sam Bankman-Fried sbf
We’ll likely have to wait until Sam’s appeal to see whether there is anything more to his theory that Sullivan & Cromwell threw him under the bus during its November 9 meeting. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
May 29, 2024

Two weeks after we chatted in person at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, earlier this month, Sam Bankman-Fried was handcuffed to the seat of a prison bus and began his long journey to what will likely be his home for the foreseeable future: the medium-security federal prison in Mendota, California. In the corrections trade, these cross-country bus trips are known as “diesel therapy.” According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Sam is currently at FTC Oklahoma City, which is described as “an administrative federal security transfer center.” 

With no lawyers to distract him and endless hours to fill, Sam will surely be reflecting on his upcoming appeal. During our May 7 interview, Sam seemed less focused on the $8 billion that he misappropriated from FTX than the idea that the company’s outside counsel, Sullivan & Cromwell, had wronged him—in particular, by setting up a meeting with the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York on November 9, 2022, ostensibly to flag FTX’s balance sheet crisis but also, in his telling, to exculpate itself and to throw him under the metaphorical prison bus. The next day, S&C advised Sam to step down as C.E.O. and turn over the company to John J. Ray III, who has a long and impressive history of recovering assets from failed businesses. Ray’s first act as chief executive was to have FTX file for bankruptcy, which catalyzed the unwinding of the company and the legal ramifications for Sam and many on his team. On March 28, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for misappropriating billions of dollars of customer funds and defrauding his investors, among other criminal acts.